Oktoberfest is technically over. Actually, it did not take place at all, as Bavarian Minister-President Markus Soder cancelled this year’s iteration of the annual festival. Amusingly, the official announcement attributes the cancellation to the “Corona Pandemic” — as if beach-week Mexican beers had somehow displaced German Märzens from Munich. But, even if Oktoberfest had proceeded, it would have ended two weeks ago.
2020, though, is all about adapting and adjusting. And, that we did. The facts that Oktoberfest was cancelled, Oktoberfest would already have been over even if not cancelled, and we are in the middle of a pandemic could not prevent us from celebrating Oktoberfest last night. In announcing the cancellation of Oktoberfest, its director Clemens Baumgärtner explained that the festival is a “total work of art that you either do completely or not at all.” With our apologies to Herr. Baumgärtner, we gathered with a small group in a friend’s backyard, socially distanced, to toast the world’s largest folk festival. Since we could not go to Bavaria, we brought Bavaria to us.
The Bavarian Chef
German natives Eckhard and Bruni Thalwitz opened The Bavarian Chef in April 1974. Forty-six years later, the beloved German restaurant is now run by their son Jerome and his wife Christine. Against the advice of his parents, who told Jerome never to become a chef, Jerome has been in the hospitality industry nearly his entire life, and still recalls the moment he knew it was for him. He was eleven years old, sitting on the back steps of The Bavarian Chef with his father after a busy Saturday service. Jerome’s father halved a cantaloupe and filled each half with sherbet for them. “We sat eating and looking at the mountains,” said Jerome. “Something about that moment cemented my love for the business.”
Fast forward to 2020, and the decades of experience of Jerome and his wife sure show. Veterans of the industry, the Thalwitzes are masters of hospitality, and COVID-19 has done nothing to change that. During the pandemic, you can still enjoy Jerome’s food takeout or on-premises at The Bavarian Chef or from The Bavarian Chef’s food truck around town. Perhaps best of all, though, is bringing The Bavarian Chef to you.
In Bavaria, locals call Oktoberfest Wiesn. Our Wiesn feast was a reminder that life is about experiences not things. From food to setting to service, the Thalwitzes created a flawless experience, the memory of which will warm our hearts for years to come.
The feast began with a brotzeit board of meats, cheeses, wurst, and more.
Also, beautifully served pretzels with bier cheese.
And Flammkuchen, German flatbread with brisket marinated in beer, gouda, banana peppers, and herbed creme fraiche.
True to its origins, The Bavarian Chef remains a family affair. The Thalwitzes’ son Alexi bakes and serves at the restaurant, their son Jared manages the new ice cream truck and works on the food truck, and their daughter, Katya, hostesses in the restaurant. Katya joined Christine in cheerfully passing appetizers to our group.
Like reuben streudel bites.
And, a dish that immediately rivals wings as a favorite gameday food. Mini pork shanks tossed in “sugar beet glaze” – a reduction of Zuckerruben sirup, cognac, demi-glace, and crushed red pepper.
Entrees, served family style, included an array of sausages and meats. Jerome sources his sausages from Binkert’s, a Baltimore supplier beloved by German expats. Bauernwurst, or farmer’s sausage, combined coarsely ground, smoked pork and beef, with onion, garlic, marjoram and mustard seeds. Weisswurst, pale white as its name suggests, blended finely ground veal and bacon with parsley, onion, lemon and cardamom. And there was of course bratwurst, the classic German sausage of finely minced pork and beef.
As for the other meats, there were two kinds of schnitzel: wiener and mandel. A classically trained chef, Jerome reveres food history and traditions, but he also inherited a creative streak from his father, and the schnitzels reflected both approaches. Wiener (meaning Viennese) is perhaps the most well-known version: fried breaded veal, which we enjoyed with traditional accompaniments, lemon wedges and anchovies. Mandel (meaning almond), is Jerome’s own creation – fried pork tenderloin cutlets coated in almonds, with a sauce of gin, honey and strawberry.
Last but not least was Schweinshaxen, an Oktoberfest dish of roast pork hock. Also known as pork knuckle, the hock is the joint at the bottom of a pig’s shank between the tibia/fibula and the ankle.
Sides, all traditional, included sauerkraut, red cabbage, and handmade spaetzle.
Jerome also knows his wine and beer, and his selections were spot on – whether enjoyed on their own or as an Oktoberfestoni.
Bavaria and Virginia
When Jerome’s parents chose central Virginia as the site for their restaurant nearly fifty years ago, it was in part because they were so enchanted by the mountains and landscape, which reminded them of their native Germany. But, it’s not just geography that the region shares with Bavaria, Jerome says. ““The values of Virginia are the same as Bavaria,” Jerome said. “It’s just that feeling of welcoming. They take their time to say hello to you, to get to know you.”